Though record label executives seem daunted by her chameleonic musical presentations, Michelle Shocked has no trouble connecting with live audiences as she moves from acoustic folk, big-band “swing,” Appalachian string band music to whatever else might strike her as interesting. March 24-27 stand was last of series of “residencies” at East and West Coast clubs.
For sake of comparison, her last local appearance was more than a year ago at the much larger El Rey; in the time between, she released an album on Private Music and the label switched owners, leaving her — and the company’s former staff — standing on the corner, watching the traffic. She’s selling her current, self-produced album at the gigs.
Singer-songwriter’s current love seems to be rhythm and blues, of the kind identified with Memphis and her current home, New Orleans, with occasional dashes of pure gospel, such as the encore “Joy, Joy, Joy,” on which Shocked and the entire band sang, a cappella.
Interesting aspect of this is that, while she writes new songs for each incarnation, much of her vintage material is strong enough to transmute interestingly — originals including the wistful “Anchorage” hold up over a subtly electric backing to a full-blown, Canned Heat-styled version of “When I Grow Up (I Want to Be an Old Woman)” and a driving, loping “If Love Was a Train,” all originally recorded acoustically.
During the course of her 2-1/2-hour set, Shocked at various points had the audience singing along, couples waltzing, bartenders dancing, and members of the crowd shouting “Rutabaga!” (must be some kind of folk thing).
Club’s acoustics and Shocked’s own relatively quiet speaking voice made her introductions largely inaudible at the back of the room, but those in front seemed to be enjoying what they were hearing.